The Menshevik Party was a moderate Marxist group within the Russian revolutionary movement. The Mensheviks originated as a faction of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP). In 1903, at the Second Party Congress, Yuli O. Martov proposed a less restrictive definition of party membership than Vladimir I. Lenin. Based on the voting at the congress, Lenin's faction of the party subsequently took the name Bolshevik, or "majority," and Martov's faction assumed the name Menshevik, or "minority." The party was funded by dues and donations. Its strength can be measured by proportionate representation at party meetings, but membership figures are largely speculative because the party was illegal during most of its existence.
Russian revolutionaries had embraced Marxism in the 1880s, and the Mensheviks retained Georgy Plekhanov's belief that Russia would first experience a bourgeois revolution to establish capitalism before advancing to socialism, as Karl Marx's model implied. They opposed any premature advance to socialism. A leading Menshevik theorist, Pavel Borisovich Akselrod, stressed the necessity of establishing a mass party of workers in order to assure the triumph of social democracy.
During the 1905 Revolution, which established civil liberties in Russia, Akselrod called for a "workers' congress," and many Mensheviks argued for cooperation with liberals to end the autocracy. Their Leninist rivals vested the hope for revolution in a collaboration of peasants and workers. Despite these differences, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks participated in a Unification Congress at Stockholm in 1906. The Menshevik delegates voted to participate in elections to Russia's new legislature, the Duma. Lenin initially opposed cooperation but later changed his mind. Before cooperation could be fully established, the Fifth Party Congress in London (May 1907) presented a Bolshevik majority. Akselrod's call for a workers' congress was condemned. Soon afterward the tsarist government ended civil liberties, repressed the revolutionary parties, and dissolved the Duma.
From 1907 to 1914 the two factions continued to grow apart. Arguing that the illegal underground party had ceased to exist, Alexander Potresov called for open legal work in mass organizations rather than a return to illegal activity. Fedor Dan supported a combination of legal and illegal work. Lenin and the Bolsheviks labeled the Mensheviks "liquidationists." In 1912 rival congresses produced a permanent split between the two factions.
During World War I many Mensheviks were active in war industries committees and other organizations that directly affected the workers' movement. Menshevik internationalists, such as Martov, refused to cooperate with the tsarist war effort. The economic and political failure of the Russian government coupled with continued action by revolutionary parties led to the overthrow of the tsar in February (March) 1917. The Mensheviks and another revolutionary party, the Socialist Revolutionaries, had a majority in the workers' movement and ensured the establishment of democratic institutions in the early months of the revolution. Since the Mensheviks opposed an immediate advance to socialism, the party supported the concept of dual power, which established the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet. In response to a political crisis that threatened the collapse of the Provisional Government, Mensheviks who wanted to defend the revolution, labeled defensists, decided to join a coalition government in April 1917. Another crisis in July did not persuade the Menshevik internationalists to join. Thereafter, the Mensheviks were divided on the Revolution. The Provisional Government failed to fulfill the hopes of peasants, workers, and soldiers.
Because the Mensheviks had joined the Provisional Government and the Bolsheviks were not identified with its failure, the seizure of power by the Soviets in November brought the Bolshevik Party to power. Martov's attempts to negotiate the formation of an all-socialist coalition failed. Mensheviks opposed the Bolshevik seizure of power, the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed by the Bolsheviks, who now called themselves the Communist Party. Marginally legal, the Mensheviks opposed Allied efforts to crush the Soviet state during the civil war and, though repressed by the communists, also feared that counterrevolutionary forces might gain control of the government. Mensheviks established a republic in Georgia from 1918 to 1921. At the end of the civil war, some workers adopted Menshevik criticisms of Soviet policy, leading to mass arrests of party leaders. In 1922 ten leaders were allowed to emigrate. Others joined the Communist Party and were active in economic planning and industrial development. Though Mensheviks operated illegally in the 1930s, a trial of Mensheviks in 1931 signaled the end of the possibility of even marginal opposition inside Russia. A Menshevik party abroad operated in Berlin, publishing the journal Sotsialistichesky Vestnik under the leadership of Martov. Dan emerged as the leader of this group after Martov's death in 1923. To escape the Nazis the Mensheviks migrated to Paris and then to the United States in 1940, where they continued publication of their journal until 1965.
See also: bolshevism; constituent assembly; martov, yuri osipovich; marxism; provisional government; social democratic party; soviet marxism
Ascher, Abraham, ed. (1976). The Mensheviks in the Russian Revolution. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Brovkin, Vladimir. (1987). The Mensheviks After October: Socialist Opposition and the Rise of the Bolshevik Dictatorship. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Galili, Ziva. (1989). Menshevik Leaders in the Russian Revolution: Social Realities and Political Strategies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Alice K. Pate
"Mensheviks." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mensheviks
"Mensheviks." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mensheviks
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